Crusaders clinch championship

Carlton Crusaders quarterback Jacques Lavoie (8) rushes the ball against the St. Mary Marauders in the first quarter of the 2017 division III football final at Max Clunie Field Nov. 2, 2017. Evan Radford/Daily Herald

The siren rang and his teammates screamed his name, waiting to celebrate.

Much like he’d done all game, Carlton Crusaders quarterback Jacque Lavoie ran to the throng of players to scream, cheer and savour his side’s historic 25-22 win over the St. Mary Marauders Thursday night at Max Clunie field.

The Crusades relied on their gritty defence, Lavoie’s two rushing touchdowns and a pick-six from sophomore defensive back Isaiah Holoniuk to earn the come-from-behind victory and clinch the Saskatoon high school football division III championship.

It was the first ever playoff game played in Prince Albert between the cross-town rivals.

“It means so much to me – really awesome – winning after how many years of losing,” Lavoie said. It’s the first time since at least 2012 that the Crusaders beat the Marauders in high school football.

“It’s a great way to cap off my grade 12 year with all my boys, too,” the multi-skilled quarterback said before running off to celebrate.

The two teams kicked off the game under brisk, snowy conditions that saw the temperature drop to -10 C with the wind chill. By the game’s end it was -15 C.

“The weather doesn’t affect us when we’re out here. We prepared for it all week, we knew it was coming.”

Carlton Crusaders receiver Ethan Cartier (81) gains yardage after catching a pass against the St. Mary Marauders in the first quarter of the 2017 division III football final at Max Clunie Field Nov. 2, 2017. Evan Radford/Daily Herald

Each team geared its play-calling to the inclement conditions, but it was the Crusaders who found success on the ground, whether running the ball or shutting down the Marauders’ normally effective run game.

Lavoie led the Crusaders in rushing yards with 108 on 19 carries.

Head coach Lindsay Strachan was effective in calling on Lavoie when needed, often utilizing off-tackle or dive plays for the signal caller to gain yards with his feet.

Strachan kept the Marauders’ defence honest by calling 19 passing plays, although Lavoie only completed four passes. He also threw one interception.

“We were outplayed tonight,” St. Mary head coach Curt Hundeby said.

The game opened with a scoreless first quarter; the Crusaders drove the ball downfield into the red zone, but failed to score points after coming up short on a third-down conversion attempt.

The Marauders’ offence couldn’t generate any success in the quarter.

Fifteen seconds into the second quarter, the Crusaders’ defence won the early field-position battle: St. Mary conceded a safety and elected not to punt the ball on third down deep in their zone.

St. Mary quarterback Tyler Rock scored for his team at 6:13 of the quarter on a three-yard touchdown run. He then completed a two-point covert pass to Troy Premack to put his team up 8-2.

St. Mary Marauders running back Nick Otto (32) rushes the ball against the Carlton Crusaders in the 2017 division III football final at Max Clunie Field Nov. 2, 2017. Evan Radford/Daily Herald

Then, with just over three minutes before halftime, Carlton got the spark it needed: Holoniuk picked off Rock and ran the ball back 33 yards for the major.

The game was tied 8-8 at halftime.

“That’s literally a kid that came up from the junior team – he’s been with us for two weeks,” Strachan said. “He made a couple of those plays (interceptions) tonight that just show the type of football player he’s going to be for us for a few more years.”

Each team nearly went scoreless in the third quarter, but Marauders running back Keegan Kelly ran in the ball to put his team ahead 15-8 after a converted PAT at 9:07.

The Crusaders’ defence forced the Marauders to concede their second safety at the end of the quarter.

15-10 Marauders.

In the fourth quarter, Lavoie and the Carlton defence took over.

Driving down the field and chewing up precious clock time, the Crusaders’ offence scored the go-ahead touchdown halfway through the quarter: Lavoie snuck the ball in on a one-yard run. The successful two-point convert made it 18-15 for Carlton.

St. Mary Marauders running back Keegan Kelly (33) runs for an eight-yard touchdown in the third quarter against the Carlton Crusaders. Evan Radford/Daily Herald

The grade 12 quarterback added another rushing score (11 yards) with 1:35 to go in game, putting his team up 25-15 with the PAT.

St. Mary made it interesting on a late touchdown pass hauled in by Grant Alexander with 1:05 remaining in the game, coming within three points for the win.

But Carlton squelched any chance for a St. Mary comeback by recovering the Marauders’ on-side kick.

Lavoie took the requisite victory-kneels as the game clock ticked down to 0:00; the Crusaders’ siren blared as the team celebrated its victory.

After the game, Hundeby offered an honest assessment of his team’s loss.

“We really struggled tackling. We struggled blocking, we struggled catching the ball, and even the kicking game. All three phases we got outplayed. Hats off to them.”

A large part of Carlton’s success was its defence, which consistently shut down the Marauders’ run game; the unit held power back Ashton Hall to 67 yards on nine carries and no touchdowns; and it allowed speedster Nick Otto only 34 yards on eight carries.

“Obviously their running game is a big part of their offence,” Strachan said.

The Carlton Crusaders’ defence prepares for a play against the St. Mary Marauders’ offence deep in St. Mary’s zone. Evan Radford/Daily Herald

“(Defensive coach) Michalchuk made some great adjustments this week and the boys came to play and were physical and executed.”

When the two teams met on Sept. 21 for the Canadian Tire classic, Hall and Otto powered their side to victory on the ground.

But in the frosty conditions on Thursday, the pair looked normal, thanks to a stout Carlton defence.

“In the fist half when the offence wasn’t really driving us very much, our defence just stepped up and they were great all night for us,” Strachan said.

As he took in the win and accepted congratulations from his friends and family, the Crusaders’ coach was quick to recognize the importance of the game for football in Prince Albert.

“Here we are, Nov. 2, snow’s coming down. What more could you ask from a football game? To have a good back-and-forth game all night here, keep the fans into it, and it’s huge. It’s awesome.”